Bumblebees possess a particular type of gut bacteria that is associated with memory enhancement

An international research team have discovered a specific kind of gut bacteria in bees that help improve memory.

The study, led by scientists from Jiangnan University, China in collaboration with researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Oulu, Finland, have shown that a specific gut bacteria, known as Lactobacillus Apis, is linked to increased memory in bumblebees.

Researchers have found that bumblebees that have more of this type bacteria in their guts are better at remembering than those with less bacteria. Bumblebees that ate food containing more of this species of gut bacteria were also found to have better long-lasting memories than those with normal diets.

To test the bees’ memory as well as their learning capabilities, the researchers made different coloured artificial flowers and five colors were connected to sweet sucrose and the other five were associated with a bitter tasting solution containing quinine, a repellent for bees. The researchers then assessed how quickly the bees learned which colours were associated with sugar rewards, and if they could retain the information during the following three days of follow-up tests. They were able to assess the differences between the bumblebees’ memory and learning abilities by analyzing their gut samples.

To confirm that the numbers of Lactobacillus apis in the gut were directly responsible for the observed memory differences, the researchers added the bacteria to the Bumblebees’ diet, and then measured their responses to the same task.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, adds to the growing evidence that the gut microbiome – the trillions of microbes that reside in our intestines – may affect animal behaviour.

Bees’ cognitive abilities vary across individuals and they have a relatively small community of gut microorganisms compared with mammals, making them ideal models to explore the role of specific gut bacteria in determining differences in cognition among individuals.

Researchers suggest that observed variations in microbiome among Bumblebees could result from variations in the nest environment as well as the activities of pathogens and social interactions, pollination environment and other variables.

Dr Li Li, a Jiangnan University postdoctoral researcher, was the lead author of the study.

“Further research is needed to determine whether and which bacteria species may be able to cause the same effects in humans. Our research has revealed this possibility.

This is a fascinating discovery that could be applicable to humans as well as bees. These findings are a further proof that animals need to have gut-brain interactions. They also provide insight into the reasons behind differences in cognitive abilities in natural bee populations.

Professor Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London Co-author of this study.

Professor Wei Zhao, corresponding author and head of the Enzymology lab at Jiangnan University, said: “It’s amazing to discover the specific species of bacteria that enhance memory. The results further validate our belief that we may improve our cognitive ability via the regulation of gut microbiota”.

Journal reference:

Li, L., et al. (2021). Individual memory variation in bumblebees is driven by the gut microbiome. Nature Communications.

Content Source:

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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